|Wisconsin's Kohl Center frequently delivers fans in large numbers.|
In what qualifies as a surprise, at least to me, the men's team's season-closing game on February 25th (a Monday) at Wisconsin, will air on Big Ten Network. The game will now begin at 8:30 p.m. eastern, a change from the original 8:00 p.m. start.
The UW series, which will be played as a Sunday-Monday set, was moved from Friday-Saturday to accommodate the Wisconsin state high school wrestling tournament, which also takes place at the Badgers' home Kohl Center.
Sunday's game will be carried by Fox Sports Wisconsin at 8:00 p.m., which might also be helpful to know if you have a sports package that offers the regional Fox Sports networks, like those available on DirecTV and Dish Network. The men's schedule page will track broadcast information as is comes out.
This is, of course, the second announced BTN date for the new NCAA program - on Monday, it was learned that PSU's January 26th game at Michigan State would be carried on the network.
Wisconsin presents an interesting challenge, not just as a great program, but as one that may present the largest crowd ever faced by a Penn State hockey team. The Badgers led the nation in attendance last season by drawing 11,773 fans per game in a 15,325-seat venue - a mark only Nebraska-Omaha and Ohio State can even potentially touch, based on rink capacity.
The likely record going into the UW series will come from the expected sellout for the October 20th game against RIT at Rochester's Blue Cross Arena, capacity 11,200. The games at the Penguins' (the Steel City Classic, December 28th and 29th) and Flyers' (Vermont, January 19th) arenas could also set the bar, should they sell well. The Icers' (unofficial) record was 7,200 for a game at Arizona on January 8, 1994. Factor in the national television audience on a night with little sports competition, and it might now be fair to definitively call February 25th the largest stage of the season.
That's not meant to take away from the opponent, which will be a typically formidable Badgers team. The 2006 national champs, who went an atypical 17-18-2 last season, recharge with a class placed into a three-way tie for second in the WCHA by recruiting expert Jasper Kozak-Miller.
Wisconsin brings in a small but respectable class led by Nic Kerdiles, taken in the second round by his hometown Anaheim Ducks, and forward Morgan Zulinick. Kerdiles is an athletic forward whose natural agility and stride excite scouts, and although his offensive ceiling might not be astronomical, it certainly will surprise opposing defensemen in Madison.While the team lost stalwart D-man Justin Schultz to the pros, it does return the other nine of the top ten scorers from last season, including Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch. Mersch was a fourth-round pick of the Kings in 2011 and he and Kerdiles are just two of eight NHL-drafted players on the roster. Long story short, PSU might have saved its biggest challenge of the inaugural season for last.
It's difficult to make sweeping statements before Penn State and the BTN release their full broadcast schedules, but the guess here is that we'll have to settle for these two national games plus the expected hodgepodge of streaming arrangements and inaccessible local broadcasts. While BTN does carry games involving non-Big Ten opponents, the broadcasts always originate from a Big Ten venue for rights reasons. Beyond the MSU and Wisconsin series, the Nittany Lions' only games on the campus of a league school will be played at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion, which has a television setup somewhere south of optimal for a number of reasons. NBC Sports and CBS Sports, the other major national carriers of college hockey, have already released PSU-free schedules.